Ted Kaufman - United States Senator for Delaware

Celebrating the 2010 Service to America Medal Winners

September 16, 2010

Mr. President, I rise once again to honor our nation’s great federal employees and, in particular, to celebrate this year’s Service to America Medal winners. 

Last night, winners for eight awards were announced by the Partnership for Public Service, a leading nonprofit, nonpartisan organization.  One year ago, when I rose from this desk to pay tribute to the 2009 winners, I spoke about the values federal employees embody:  citizenship, hard work, a willingness to take risks, perseverance, intellect, and humility.  All nine of this year’s awardees exemplify these qualities.

One important value all of this year’s winners share is concern for others.  Whether rescuing Haitian orphans from a deadly earthquake, fighting against trafficking of minors, or helping Native Americans gain access to Social Security benefits, this year’s medalists have dedicated their careers and their talents to helping others. 

They do it for less pay – yes, less pay – and often longer hours than jobs they could have taken in the private sector.  If they receive a large compensation, it is in the form of satisfaction that their lives are serving a meaningful purpose in service to their nation. 

This year’s Federal Employee of the Year Medal was awarded to a Citizenship and Immigration Services officer who helped expedite the adoption of more than 1,100 orphans in the wake of Haiti’s devastating earthquake in January.  Pius Bannis was the only American immigration official in the country working on adoption in the first weeks following the quake. 

He got right to work, organizing a temporary day-care in our embassy and ensuring the provision of emergency supplies to Haitian orphanages, including diapers, food, water, and clean clothes.  Pius, in the midst of this Herculean effort, also had to cope with the loss of embassy staff and their family members.  A naturalized immigrant to the United States himself, he knows firsthand the complexities of the immigration process, which makes him an outstanding CIS officer. 

A resource conservation expert at the Environmental Protection Agency, Saskia van Gendt won this year’s Call to Service Medal for her work on fostering green building technologies.  Millions of tons of materials used in construction are disposed of each year in landfills – a third of our nation’s total solid waste.  At the EPA, Saskia has created an innovative program to help spur a green revolution in construction materials.  In 2007, she developed the Lifecycle Building Challenge.  This annual competition engages architects, students, and builders to develop new designs that reduce the impact of buildings on the environment.  Since 2008, Saskia has been working with the StopWaste grant program to encourage businesses to adopt environmentally-friendly equipment.  The Call to Service Medal that she won recognizes those who have achieved early in their federal careers.  Saskia is just twenty-eight years old. 

Honoring those who have spent many years in federal government, the Career Achievement Medal was won this year by Susan Solomon, a senior scientist in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado.  In her nearly thirty years as a government employee, Susan has been at the forefront of pioneering research into the hole in the Earth’s ozone layer.  Her research was critical in determining how certain consumer and industrial gases were affecting the ozone, which helped spur the landmark 1987 Montreal Protocol.  Last year, Susan led a groundbreaking study that showed how the effects of carbon pollution, such as altered temperatures and changes in sea level, can linger for over a thousand years. 

This year’s Citizens Services Medal was awarded to a pair of officials also from Colorado.  Shane Kelley and Eva Ristow work in the Denver office of the Social Security Administration.  They won for their work to expand access to Social Security benefits for those living in impoverished and rural areas using an online two-way video service.  For years, the SSA has had difficulties reaching those living in remote areas of the West, in particular Native Americans living on reservations.  As a result, many do not know they are eligible to receive Social Security benefits that could drastically improve their families’ standard of living.  Shane and Eva developed an innovative internet-based video teleconferencing system to help connect these rural communities to Social Security representatives in Denver.  For those whose annual incomes can be as low as $3,000, this new connection to the SSA – thanks to Shane and Eva – has had a gigantic impact.  

As Deputy Director of Intelligence and Security and Chief of Innovative Technology for the Navy’s Joint Interagency Task Force South, Sandra Brooks won this year’s Homeland Security Medal.  Drug smugglers are constantly seeking new ways to evade our border security and customs checks.  Sandy is one of the highly-dedicated federal employees working to keep one step ahead of them. Her role is to analyze information from a stream of sources and make sure it is shared quickly with the military, law enforcement, and homeland security agencies in the field.  Sandy’s efforts have directly led to the capture of over twenty submersible vehicles used to bring illegal drugs into our country.  Her work is breaking down barriers that in the past have prevented security agencies from sharing information. 

This year’s Justice and Law Enforcement Medal was won by Jamie Konstas  at the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  An intelligence analyst, Jamie helped create a national online database used in investigations into the trafficking of minors for sex.  Before this database was created, local law enforcement officials had few resources to track child victims or information on suspects after they had crossed state lines. Jamie’s role is to spot connections and cross-reference clues to break cases wide open.  Her tireless efforts have led to the prosecution of over 500 child predators. 

The winner of this year’s National Security and International Affairs Medal led a U.S. Army team at Fort Detrick, Maryland, that developed a new kind of medical kit to help troops wounded by roadside bombs.  In Iraq and Afghanistan, improvised explosive devices – or “IEDs” – have been used to target our soldiers and have caused many casualties.  Teri Glass and her team created a unique medical evaluation kit that has allowed medics in the field to transport wounded troops more safely and efficiently to hospitals.  This has significantly raised the survival rate for soldiers wounded by IEDs.   The kit Teri and her team developed can convert a range of non-ambulance vehicles into medical evacuation vehicles in less than a minute, using a foldable litter, a rear-facing attendant seat, and a lift system.  When not in use, all of it collapses into a portable container the size of a suitcase and can fit in the back of a vehicle.  Commanders in the field have credited this device as saving the lives of countless service members. 

Last, but certainly not least, the Science and Environment Medal for 2010 was awarded to the Department of Energy’s Jeffrey Baker.  As the Director of the Office of Laboratory Operations at the Department’s field office in Golden, Colorado, Jeffrey has been the driving force behind the design and construction of the largest net-zero energy office building in the world.  This means that the building generates as much or more energy than it consumes.  Planning for the Research Support Facility began in the 1990’s, when Jeffrey had a vision for a building that would not only house the Department’s laboratories but also serve as an example of energy-efficiency.  He oversaw the design process and construction, and the building was completed on time and on budget.  Today, the General Services Administration is planning to replicate Jeffrey’s approach for new federal buildings across the nation. 

Mr. President, all nine of these men and women are excellent examples of what government does right.  They deserve our thanks and recognition.  So do the twenty-three other finalists, as well as the thousands upon thousands of federal employees who achieved great things this year as well. 

I was proud to serve on this year’s Service to America Medals Selection Committee – a blue ribbon panel that included my colleagues Senator Carper and Senator Voinovich as well as leaders from across the non-profit and business sectors and members of the House. 

I hope all of my colleagues – and all Americans – will join me in congratulating the 2010 Service to America medalists and thanking them for their hard work on our behalf. 

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